Obligatory Obedience

I once witnessed a teacher moving a desk to the corner of her classroom as she was setting up the day before the new school year started. She told me that it was for a specific child that was in her class for the upcoming year. She laughed when she wagered her opinion. “I bet he lands in this seat by the end of the first day.” She was teaching the 6th grade that year.


He was in that spot by the end of the first week.


I knew the student she was referring to. In fact, I had taught him before. He had some character, was merely subpar academically if you stayed on him, and somehow always found himself in a situation that would land him in the principal’s office. So, he wasn’t your most ideal student. But children do a lot of growing, both physically and mentally over that two-month summer break. Placing a desk in the corner of a room for a specific child, which I can only assume led to “warning” that student of his eventual residence upon first slip up, takes away a lot more than it adds to student learning. But beyond that, the situation speaks to a deeper issue in the daily interactions between students and teachers. It’s this idea of obligatory obedience.


Positioning a student desk in the corner of a room for a prescribed student who you have not had any contact with in the school year is an extreme example of the obligatory obedience that some teachers feel they automatically acquire. Writing your name on the board on the first day and getting the first words out at the start of the school year does not mean that your students must be obedient to your every last direction. Oh, they’ll call you “Mr.” or “Ms., you don’t have to fight over that, trust me. But, in 2017, we do not need any more lambs. We are in need of lions. And fostering this type of mentality does not come from demanding blind respect.


When you demand obligatory obedience, you are fracturing the relationship potential that may exist between you as the teacher and your students. Some may think that it is better to be feared than to be loved, but I will tell you that, in education, the feared leader fosters disengagement. If your goal is to create an environment where your students never challenge you, than I guess this option is more comfortable for you. But if you want to truly establish student buy-in to their own learning, then please don’t assume that your students should obligatorily oblige with you.


Understanding that obligatory obedience is to never be fully created within your classroom is a scary reality to take in. It assumes the fact that your students should always be weary of your instructions, messages, and ideas for the class. But this is the point. We want to establish a classroom dynamic in which our students are critical of their learning and actions. In the right context, challenge becomes uplifting and also a classroom community endeavor; not an impediment to your ability to facilitate order and strong classroom management skills. Too many of our teachers come into schools each day with the mindset of obligatory obedience and all this really does is dumb our students down. We need thinkers, not robots. Thus, we must work to abolish this style of teaching practice and not submit to our comfy efforts of establishing obligatory obedience.



[share title=”Share this Post” facebook=”true” twitter=”true” google_plus=”true”]

Related Posts

matthew sitting on stairs

Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

Twitter Feed